On a Saturday, early in April, the Boy Wonder and I made our way east along the Golf Coast Road. He and his mum – my sister – were in Edinburgh for a long weekend. It was a breezy and mostly sunny day in East Lothian. We made quick work of Longniddry, Aberlady and Gullane.
‘Turn your phone off and talk to me,’ I said.
He killed his screen and put it back in his pocket, only semi-reluctantly.
‘Can I drive?’ he asked.
‘You’re thirteen,’ I reminded him.
He seemed to find this an unacceptable reason for his request to be turned down.
On the beach at Yellowcraig, we kick a ball about, with the wind making it awkward, and a bit chilly. We passed and volleyed our way along the beach eastwards.
‘Hang on,’ he said. The football was suspended for a time, while he found a rock pool and attempted to recreate something he saw in a TikTok video. It didn’t work. I suspect trickery may have been involved in the original.
Back in the beach car park, he suggested I let him drive for a bit. I resisted. We set off for North Berwick, and the conversation turned to lunch options. Having earlier hit up McDonalds for Second Breakfast, the gastronomic bar for the day had been set high. My suggestions of “fish and chips” or “a sandwich from Costa” were met with a disapproving silence.
We were no further forward on this most important of issues as we rolled into the neatly kept streets of the East Lothian seaside town, round the one-way loop, past the award-winning toilets, and back up the High Street, passing Greggs.
‘Oooh, Greggs,’ he said. ‘I’ve never been to Greggs, but my friend says you can’t beat it.’
And that was the lunch decision made. We sat on the beach and ate sausage rolls and chicken bakes in the spring sunshine.
‘Well? Was your friend right?’
‘He wasn’t lying.’
Now, one month later almost to the day, I find myself in Wolverhampton. A change of career has landed me here, on three days of training courses, learning about outer ear disorders and cerumenolytics. All in all, I expect to be away from home for a full month. How does one pack for being away for a month?
I wasn’t sure, so I threw the limoncello, some chocolate and a spare pair of pants in the car and set off. I stopped in Moffat, having taken rather longer to get there than I would have liked, finding myself behind an especially-slow-moving caravanette for a long stretch of the Beeftub road.
The public toilets in Moffat, I discovered, are most definitely not award-winning. It’s been a long time since I drove south with any regularity, but many things remain the same. Most of the buildings and shops in Moffat, for example, and certainly their paintwork, which doesn’t appear to have been refreshed in the last twenty years. And the increasing southward busyness of the M6, peaking around Manchester, and settling down thereafter.
Wolverhampton is a new destination for me. It has an interesting-looking mosque, a lot of roundabouts, a city layout designed by someone with a one-way street obsession, and a grimly industrial vibe.
My travelling companion Shona and I were booked into a country hotel near our training venue. I collected my room key at reception, made my way along several corridors, through multiple double-doors, passing bizarrely mirror-lined alcoves along the way, and found my room. On entering it, I was reminded forcibly of Mordor, although I confess I’ve never been.
The paintwork was in poor nick, the taps were tenuously attached to the bathroom sink, the light switch for the bathroom gave way a little on pressing it. There was a bare bulb in the light fitting beside the bed, the shade having been broken by some earlier occupant. The mattress springs in the bed introduced themselves to me, individually, when I lay down. The mains socket nearest the bed didn’t work, but the lamp on the dresser did pass a PAT test in 2018, so that was something.
We stayed one night, Shona faring much worse than I with a sleepless night brought on by a full-scale domestic abuse situation unfolding in the adjacent room, before she headed home, and I beat a retreat to an Airbnb in Wolverhampton.
Tomorrow is the final day of courses, and then it’s on to London, where the Boy Wonder will no doubt want to drive my car again.
I shall resist, again.